I first learned about asafoetida powder, or hing, during an Ayurvedic consultation with Laura Coburn, certified Ayurveda yoga specialist and director of serenity at The Inns of Aurora in New York State. Extracted from the ferula plant, and frequently blended with spices such as cumin seeds, black pepper, and ginger root, the active ingredient in asafoetida has been used as a digestive aid in India for centuries. While little scientific research supports its efficacy in helping human digestion, the pungent powder maintains an age-old reputation for settling an unhappy stomach.
According to Coburn, Ayurvedic practices often call for pairing asafoetida in recipes dense with hard-to-digest foods like (you guessed it) beans. For instance, it is commonly used in a mung bean dish known as kitcheri. "Asafoetida helps break down the mung beans so that you don’t get a build-up of gas or bloating like you sometimes get when you eat lentils or beans," Coburn tells me of the "life-changing" herb extract. People who identify with a vata dosha and experience digestive issues swear by it.
Ironically, the smell of most asafoetida blends is stifling, according to Coburn. (When she ordered her first batch, she stored it outside on the porch.) She tells me of a particular blend that won't sting the nostrils, but if you find it in a nearby shop she suggests giving it a whiff to ascertain if its odor-free or stinky but delicious. Since the taste of asafoetida powder is fairly bitter, you'll want to add just a teaspoon to a very large batch of whichever dish you're cooking up on the stove. Grab a bowl and enjoy those beans (hopefully without the gassy aftermath).
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